Thursday, April 9, 2015

How Much Do You Talk to Your Horse?

No, I don't mean the barn aisle cooing you do in that one voice you reserve only for your horse (you know exactly the one I'm talking about), or the conversations you have with him in his stall when you've had a really bad day and you want a pity party but don't want any actual humans to know about it (I can't be the only one that does that right?)...

Who's a good boy?
I'm talking about while you're riding, as in how often do you apply an aid or give a direction?  There seem to be two distinct schools of thought on this.  On the one hand, there's those that believe you should be in constant communication with your horse.  If you aren't giving them some kind of direction at all times, then their minds are wandering, and you'll never get the kind of quality work you're looking for.  You create the canter (or whatever you're working on) that you want, and you maintain it with active aids.  I see this as the "Ride Every Stride" theory.

Then there's the belief that your horse should basically do what you've asked unless and until you tell him otherwise.  For example, you establish the canter you want, and he should hold that canter on his own, with maybe only some supportive aids, until you ask for something different.  Under this theory, you need only apply an aid when he starts to lose the canter you asked for, and then only briefly.  We'll call this the "Set it and Forget it" theory.

I kind of like the idea of leaving Tucker alone and letting him do more work than me, because let's be honest, just trying to figure out how to keep my butt in the saddle with his big rolling beautiful canter has me breaking into a sweat (holy core muscles I never knew I needed).  I intervene when he needs suppling or more forward energy or straightening, but otherwise he's got to do it on his own.  I like the idea that he's thinking for himself a little, and it seems like a form of a "release" if I stop asking anything with my leg or hand if he's holding a good canter/trot/walk what-have-you. 

I've had two rides recently, however, that have me wondering.  On Saturday, I worked him in our new outdoor ring for the first time, and it was a sunny, windy, spooky kind of morning.  As soon as I swung my leg over he started doing that tip-toe walk that has a little extra hop in it and makes me want to swing right back down.  That was most certainly a "Ride Every Stride" kind of day, because when I stopped riding even for half a stride he was finding new and terrifying stuff to worry about (leaves, flags, fence posts, the Earth).  We actually had some really good moments though, where I got a little more lift in his left shoulder than I've felt before and he got a little straighter on his right side and took the right rein more consistently.

Last night, he came out kind of stiff and generally meh. I don't know if the rain meant no turnout or less turnout, I'm guessing that was it, but I really had to work for it.  I spent the whole ride just trying to get him to carry himself instead of dumping his front end and stretching his hind legs a mile behind us.  I was basically constantly asking him for something:  leg yields, shoulder fore, haunches-in, transitions within and between the gaits, etc., to get him balanced on his hind end and off my hands. It was another "Ride Every Stride" day, because when I tried to leave him be, I didn't like the response.  But maybe I should have kept working him until he was willing to carry himself without my help?  

I was once talking to a friend who told me her trainer said she should be making about sixteen corrections down one long side of the ring.  Sixteen seems like an awful lot to me, but maybe it's not. Where do you fall on this?  When you ride, are you always asking for something so your horse stays focused on you, or do you wait until you have to before you make an adjustment?  I don't think either way is wrong, but I'm curious.  



  1. As long as it's not an overly distracting day or show, my instructor is fond of saying "stop annoying him. Ask a question, then leave him alone."

    But obviously, you have to tailor the ride to the horse and you can only leave them alone as long as they're being sensible about it.

  2. I think it depends on the horse and where he or she is at in their training.For instance, Olivia...I'm always talking (out loud) to her and over exaggerating everything because she's 3 and she knows nothing. But the horse I rode before Olivia, he's 18 years old and dead broke. I think with proper communication trust and respect is established. I want my horse to trust and respect what I tell him/her and continue with that until I tell them otherwise.

  3. I also prefer the "less is more" type of riding. If my horse is going along obediently and doing what I have asked, I leave him alone and stop bugging him. But like you said, sometimes on spooky days I DO have to ride every stride or risk hitting the dirt. But overall I like to reward him but just sitting quiet when he gets the right answer.

  4. I talk to Simon a lot, because he's a nervous guy. My trainer has taught me to use my voice a lot for easy/whoa as well as praise. I know that's so different from dressage since you can't talk in the ring, but I talk to him constantly. At our last jumper show, I said "Let's go!" out loud to revv him up a bit and it worked :)

    1. I agree - I'm not sure what I would do if I couldn't talk to Boca during my rides - right now it's one of my most effective aids!

  5. Ok, this is really funny but I read the whole first part of your post assuming you were talking about "How much do you talk to your horse" --- with your actual voice.

    And my answer was going to be A LOT. I often think people in the ring must get annoyed with me, because I do talk to Boca a lot while I am riding. I also sing to him. I swear, it helps (even though I have a terrible voice). He relaxes and his rhythm is better.

    To answer your real question, right now I am pretty much asking for something constantly when I ride, because Boca is so unbalanced and crooked. There really isn't a baseline where I could leave him alone and he would know how to do his job. Unless I wanted to go around the ring on a crooked, counter-bent giraffe, at irregular speeds. Which I don't. :)

  6. I can definitely cross over from the Ride Every Stride mindset to straight up nagging very easily, so I have to force myself to think about just leaving him alone and it usually evens itself out. Usually. ;)

  7. I think it depends on the riders mood/intention-plan for the ride & the horse being ridden. We all have days where just just want to swing a leg over and putz about for a bit.
    For Kika i have to ride every stride or she finds other ways to amuse herself, which are rarely amusing for me....even if i can but laugh at her when she spooks at nothing!
    With Nancy my teacher encourages me to guide her and when she has the idea to leave her alone unless I have to make a correction. Then again there is an age difference, Nancy is 6 and just starting better/proper work whereas Kika is theoretically further along that road. Although Nancy's attention span whoops Kika's - go figure

  8. I think it's just totally different with every horse - some need you to hold their hand, some want you to leave them the hell alone to do their job. Some need to be reminded to do something EVERY stride, some don't. I can't stand a horse I have to nag ("keep... cantering... come on... keep going.... you're not gonna die... just do it....") - I want a horse who will move off and stay in a set rhythm and speed until we change something. That change might be a halfhalt, or moving sideways, or asking for a little bit more within that specific rhythm and speed, but the base is there - we're going this rhythm until I say we're not anymore. It's how you can develop a lengthening from a working trot - how you take this basic rhythm and then add something to it, lengthen it out and them compress it again, within the rhythm. And as you add collection it obviously gets into mediums, extensions, etc. But they have to know to stay in X kind of rhythm to begin with, or else you'll never be able to finesse and improve it.

  9. I aim for the quiet ride. Somedays it turns into the ride every stride.

  10. I agree with Andrea, it just depends. I don't want to be communicating every single stride, but sometimes if it is something really difficult or totally new I do micromanage in an effort help the horse out to make sure they're learning correctly and have the support they need. That communication is almost 100% non-verbal though most of the time on the flat though. I use pats and scratches to let him know he's doing it right as well as laying off the pressure when he's correct too. It's a fine line between supporting, nagging and over asking. I ask my trainer a lot too how I'm supposed to be using my aids. Softness is always the reward for getting the answer right, even if it's just for a stride or two. Jumping I'll holler out a "good boy!" or "let's go buddy!" here and there out loud, especially cross country!!

  11. This discussion is happening in the eventing land as well. In Dressage, you want to have a submissive horse that is obedient and controllable, but on XC, you want a horse that can think for himself.

  12. This is going to be a great conversation. I was taught the "ride every stride" method. This was absolutely necessary on a few horses I rode. One was sweet as could be, but had exceptionally low IQ. He just needed to be told a lot, so he had confidence. Riding this way completely wrecked every ride I had on my athletic, smart, proud of his thinking-abilities horse, Hudson. It frustrated him, and if I had continued, probably would have undermined his confidence. Luckily, his ego is HUGE. ;)
    Trainer I help uses a combination of the two, based on where each horse is...with the ultimate goal of "horse carries himself at all times without constant correction/direction". Rider is still and generous, but gives direction, support, and 'correction' if horse loses his way. I was shocked to get on a four year old, only been in training (from out of pasture) for a year, and be able to get anything I wanted, without having to constantly ask, direct, adjust, etc. He had started out spooky, shy, no confidence, a wreck really...for him, her method gave him confidence and direction. He knew his job: she made it very clear what the rider's job was, and what the horse's job is. I think that's where stuff can get muddy? We need to be clear (IMHO) on which part is the horse's job, and which part is the riders, and what is the most kind, generous way to get there, to keep the horse's happiness, confidence, and understanding intact. It makes sense to me there will be days we have to do a LOT of support/direction (windy, trees crashing, spook cooties everywhere). The biggest thing I have learned from her: being kind is not always the same as being "nice". It is not kind or fair to be inconsistent with your horse. (Lecturing self!)

  13. i'm definitely a nagging rider... definitely haha. trying to quiet things down tho so that my aids become less 'noise' and more 'hey listen up bc i have something to say'....

    that said tho - my mare has very definite moods. when she's at the top of her game, i can absolutely 'put her in gear' and settle in to enjoy the ride. other times tho, she wants me to hold her hand.

  14. I'm bad at the "ride every stride" thing, but on some horses, one must. Most rides are a combination of both--get the horse where I want him and then ride that frame forward. Riding very sensitive horses has kind of become my specialty for that reason. The rearing dressage horse I rode last year liked me because I just sat up there quietly once we were doing whatever it was we were doing. He'd worry like crazy about any little movement I made that he didn't understand. Mo is SO green still that I do have to talk to him more (and I talk to all my horses out loud). Red, once he is in gear, is a leave-alone horse. Not how his previous owner rode him, but he clearly likes it.

    So, as everyone else is saying--depends on the horse, but I naturally tend toward the "leave them alone" style. Which just means that I should pick horses who will eventually appreciate that, instead of the ones that need constant hand-holding, I guess. :)


Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I love reading them! If you have a question, I will make sure to get back to you.